by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
The Fertitta brothers had a simple plan for Manny Gamburyan:
beat Rob Emerson and start fresh as a WEC featherweight.
It was a chance for the Armenian to be a big fish in a
little pond. Gamburyan had been plying his trade as a lightweight for years
– fighting for free, he says, for his first eight fights – but
since his entrance into the UFC at the conclusion of “The Ultimate Fighter”
season five, he had been acutely aware of his frame.
“I’m the smallest guy in the UFC, and Brock Lesnar’s the
biggest guy in the world,” he told
And it never suited Gamburyan to admit he was undersized in
a field of taller fighters who cut as much as 20 pounds to meet him.
“In myself, I can see myself being on top of him in a
fight,” Gamburyan said of the current heavyweight champ.
Before he was ever nicknamed “The Anvil,” Gamburyan was “The
Pitbull.” Not the biggest dog, but the one who wouldn’t let you go if he sunk
his teeth in.
“Why am I saying that?” he continues. “I fought Sean Sherk
three rounds when I was eighteen years old.”
He’s also a black sheep among his friends. He lives the live
of a professional fighter, with little time for distractions. Where he’s from,
you’re a little off if you’re not on the LA club scene.
“C’mon, man, I’m Armenian, you know?” he said. “Our friends
are all party freaks. I’m focusing myself to stay away from that stuff. There’s
a lot of guys out there that smoke, that drink, that party hard. I did that
before, but not right now, not anymore.”
For all his dedication, he soon met a tough lesson in focus.
At UFC 87, Gamburyan got caught in his first exchange with Emerson and was
knocked out cold in 12 seconds.
Afterwards, he wanted to stay in the division more than ever
to prove that size didn’t matter.
On Saturday, he faces Thiago Tavares, a Brazilian who’s
built a reputation for going the distance. Save for a knockout at the hands of
Matt Wiman – who Gamburyan handily defeated during the taping of TUF 5
– all of Tavares’ UFC fights have gone to decision.
The option to make the drop is still on the table. The new
plan, at least in Gamburyan’s mind, is to defeat Tavares, finish some
unfinished business, then cut the weight.
“For right now, I’ve got a couple of guys in my eye that I
want to first fight, beat the (expletive) out of, then move down to 145.”
Though he won’t name names, it’s clear that Sherk and Nate
Diaz are the likely candidates for the beatings. By all accounts, Gamburyan was
ahead of Diaz in the reality show finals before he dislocated his shoulder
early in the second round.
“Not personal stuff,” he said of the fights. “I just want to
prove to myself that I can do it again. I am capable of doing it. I fought Sean
Sherk three rounds when I was eighteen years old. I would love to prove to
myself. If I fight him again, will I be able to do good against him now? I’m a
completely different fighter now.”
Gamburyan says he’s happy to take on the featherweight
division’s current stars – Urijah Faber, Mike Brown, and Leonard Garcia
– but won’t face his former coach, Jens Pulver.
But first thing’s first: a win over Tavares. Against
Emerson, Gamburyan let the lights of the big show get to him. It was his first
main card fight on a big pay per view event – he wasn’t used to waiting
This time, he says he’ll know exactly what to do.
“I’ve got a really good gameplan for this guy, first time in
my life I’m going to stick with my game plan,” he said. I give it up; he’s a
very tough warrior. He has a lot of heart. But whatever, he doesn’t like to get
hit, so we’ll see.”